Rava Stores (Palakkad, Kerala)

Rava  stores is a family  establishment that has weathered all the ravages of times.  A tiny little store which has survived the onslaught of modernization and thrived despite changes and the challenges of the economy.  It is a store which sells the finest quality locally produced spices, masalas, pickles, pickling spices, dried vegetables, condiments, sweets, savories , chutneys and mixes native to Palakkad.  The beauty of this store is that it procures  its goods from vendors who make them from  home and therefore promotes the local cottage industries.

Rava stores  holds a very special place in my heart because my dad and my grandparents swore by it and were very faithful customers.  I cherish the memories of coming here year after year as a child and even today have made myself visit the  store and buy my favourites every time I am in Palakkad.  Nothing has changed since I was a child.  The way the goods are stored in rectangular metal tins and stacked on the old wooden shelves, the blue shutters or the smell of freshly ground masalas.  All this evokes a great sense of nostalgia and a small sense of joy that something dear to  me from my childhood has remained  exactly the same.

Long live Rava stores.  I hope my children will also keep this tradition alive and make the culinary pilgrimage to Rava stores every time they visit Palakkad.  I hope they cultivate their taste buds and develop the fondness for Mahaani, Kaduku Manga and Tapioca Poppadums  and everything else that Rava stores has specialized in supplying for generations.

Rava stores 1  rava stores 2

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Fresh hot sauce

Both Anna and I love our food spicy and hot and have experimented quite a bit with different chili sauces and fresh chilies.  One of my favourite hot sauces has to be the home made sauce which was served in a Carribean restaurant called Cari-B in Dallas, Texas (sadly it has closed down now).  The owner had has brother-in-law make the sauce from habanero peppers and boy did it pack a punch.  I can still vividly remember the conversation I had with the waiter when I asked for the hot sauce to go with my jerk chicken and black bean rice.  I was with my good friend Dushyant when this big Jamaican lad came over with the sauce and said in his thickest Jamaican accent “yo man, I know you Indian and all but if I were you I would use this sauce judiciously”.   Wise words as a small drop on the tip of my tongue was enough to get it tingling and dancing.  Today I decided to have a go at making my first home made hot sauce using scotch bonnet peppers – it’s not exactly the Cari-B sauce but quite tasty and definitely hot.

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What do I need to make it?

  • 6-8 scotch bonnet peppers de-seeded
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 2 tbsp of apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp cranberry and apple balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsp unrefined sugar
  • Salt to taste

How much will I make?

Around 150 – 200 ml

How do I make it?

Put all ingredients in a food processor and blend to a fine paste.  Adjust the seasoning and enjoy. The hot sauce should stay for a few weeks if refrigerated as the vinegar will serve as a preservative.

Vishu, following a tradition I cherish

Have you ever experienced that feeling, when a particular flavour, a distinct aroma , a special taste makes an indelible mark on you.  A warm fuzzy feeling envelopes you and you think I am going to remember this moment forever?  I have had lots of these moments. The festival of Vishu is one of those poignant memories and a tradition I try to follow to the best of my ability because I want my children to cherish it too.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vishu

For me the sights, sounds, aromas and fragrances of Vishu in Kerala are definitely archived in the recesses of my brain and are opened every year in April when it’s time for Vishu.  At the crack of dawn or even earlier, my mother would lead me with my eyes closed to see our Vishu Kani and my dad would give me my Vishu Kainettam (money) and Vishu Kodi (new clothes).  P.Leela’s rendering of the  Narayaneeyam would be playing in the background with the fragrance of sandalwood joss sticks pervading the air.  Beautiful yellow Vishu Konna (cassia Fistula – Golden shower tree) blossoms are a sight to behold and can bring tears to every homesick Malayali’s eyes.  Then came the special Vishu sadya (feast served on banana leaves).  We always made a simple Vishu sadya at home.  It always included Mambazha Pullisseri (a ripe mango curry made with sour yoghurt), fresh banana chips redolent with the beautiful aroma of coconut oil,  thoran (Sauteed finely chopped beans, cabbage or other vegetables tempered with crushed coconut, green chillies and curry leaves), chena kootu (elephant foot yam curry) and the king of all payasams ‘palada prathaman’.  If we were lucky enough, we got to go watch a new festival release blockbuster of Mammooty or Mohanlal.

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As I write this, sitting in my house in West Byfleet, England on a cold spring morning ( the weather forecast promises bright sunshine and highs of 20’s today) and listening to the Narayaneeyam rendered by Chethalloor Edamana Vasudevan Namboodiri, I can say that I have tried to keep the tradition alive.  Shiv and I went shopping in Hounslow, near Heathrow yesterday and tried to get everything we needed for Vishu today.  I managed to get ripe mangoes, banana leaves, jasmine flowers, Kerala cucumber vellarikka) and vazha thandu (banana tree pith).  Sadly, ‘Best Foods’ the Sri Lankan grocery where we did our shopping, did not have Konna flowers so I had to make do with beautiful, scented, very British daffodils.

My mother is with us this year so she is cooking a simple Vishu sadya which will include mambhazha pullisseri, chena kootu, vazha thandu thoran, palada payasam and parripu vada.  Find below the recipes for mambazha pullisseri and chena and vazhakka kootu.

Mambazha Pullisseri (ripe mango in a spiced coconut and yoghurt sauce)

What do  I need to make it?

  • 2  ripe mangoes peeled, deseeded and sliced
  • 200 gms Kerala cucumber (vellarikka) or white pumpkin (ash gourd) peeled, deseeded and cubed
  • 1/2 tsp red chilli powder
  • 1/4 tsp ground turmeric powder
  • Salt to taste

To be ground to a paste and blended

  • 1 cup freshly grated coconut
  • 2 to 3 green finger chillies (depending on how hot you want it)
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 500ml  natural live yoghurt

For the tempering

  • 1/4 tsp  mustard seeds
  • 1/4 tsp  fenugreek (methi) seeds
  • 1/2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 8 to 10 curry leaves

How much will I make?

Serves 4

How do I make it?

Grind the coconut, the cumin seeds and green chilies to a fine paste, blend with the yogurt and set aside.   Boil the cubed pumpkin or Kerala cucumber in about 400 ml of water.  Let the pumpkin/ash gourd cook till they are cooked through but still firm.   At this stage add the slices of ripe mango with salt, turmeric powder and the chilli powder.  Mango cooks quickly so at this stage add your yogurt and ground coconut mixture. Add a little more water to a get a semi thick consistency.  Lower the flame and simmer for a few minutes. Heat coconut oil in a small pan. When the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds.  Add the fenugreek seeds and the curry leaves when the mustard seeds begin to pop.  Pour the tempering into the simmering pot, check seasoning and remove from heat.  Serve hot with rice

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 Chena and Vazhakka Kootu (elephant foot yam and raw banana kootu)

What do I need to make it?

  • 250 gms elephant foot yam peeled and cut into cubes
  • 250 gms  raw bananas peeled and cut into cubes
  • 1/2 tsp  chilli powder
  • 1/4 tsp  ground turmeric powder
  • 1/4 tsp powdered jaggery (brown sugar)
  • Salt to taste

To be made into a paste

  • 1 cup  freshly grated coconut
  • 1/2 tsp  cumin seeds

For the tempering

  • 1/2 tbsp coconut Oil
  • 3 tbs  freshly grated coconut
  • 1/2 tsp  mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp- split urad dhal
  • 8 to 10 curry leaves

How much will I make?

Serves 4

How do I make it?

Grind the coconut and cumin seeds to a paste and set aside.  Boil the yam and the raw banana cubes in about 500 ml water with the turmeric powder, salt , brown sugar and chilly powder.  When the vegetables have cooked add the coconut and cumin paste.  Mix well, lower the flame and simmer.  Now for the tempering.  Heat coconut oil in a separate pan.  When the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds. Add the urad dhal, curry leaves and grated coconut and saute till the coconut is a golden brown and emits a wonderful aroma.  Add the tempering to the simmering pot, adjust seasoning and remove from heat.  Serve as an accompaniment to the ripe mango curry along with rice.

A food memory rekindled

Shiv and I went shopping to Wing Yip, an oriental grocery store which has most things south east Asian under one roof.  Both of us enjoyed walking up and down the aisles looking at ingredients to inspire us – sadly a lot them have wheat 😦

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Lo and behold my eyes caught a pack of jackfruit crisps.  I haven’t eaten these since I left Malaysia back in 2001 and was thrilled to see this product again.  Both Shiv and I polished off a packet in the car before getting home.

The product is all natural with no added preservatives and tastes absolutely divine.  The chips also brought back memories of my grandmother who used to make a snack of boiled semi ripe jack fruit seasoned with asafoetida, turmeric, chilli powder and salt and then left to dry.  My mother’s maternal  home still has some of the best jackfruit I have eaten.  We will add in a recipe for “jack fruit payasam” later – a staple in most Palakkad brahmin homes (challenge is going to be to find ‘chakka varati – jackfruit jam).

Anna